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Buying a computer: What do I need, and how much do I need to spend?

Man connecting cables under a desk

A computer was once a specialist, considered purchase - now it is something you can pick up at the supermarket. This article aims to help you get hold of the right one.

WebWise Team | 10th October 2012

So, this computer you’re thinking of buying - what did you want to do with it, exactly? This is the key question that will help you decide just what sort of computer you will want and how much it will cost.

Budget option

The cheapest you’re likely to find is a netbook. These are cut-down computers with reduced memory aimed at people who are going to store their files and documents remotely.

So you won’t need to save photos, videos, music and word-processing documents on your hard disk, but will need a good internet connection all the time to get at them.

You can get one of these netbooks for £200 or less, but the keyboard and screen will be small. If that doesn’t bother you, fine. If, like some of us at WebWise you’re over 40, you might prefer using something larger.

Many people prefer a bigger screen and to store their documents on the computer itself. Again, think of what you’re going to be doing with your computer.

Desktop vs laptop

If you have enough room and you don’t need to move it around, then a desktop model (with a box housing the computer connected to a separate monitor and keyboard) will be cheaper than a laptop.

With this option, you can always replace the keyboard and screen later if you decide they’re not up to the job. If space is at a premium or you want to work while you’re out, a laptop is better.

Another rule of thumb is that if it’s light and fast, then it’s going to be more expensive than something heavy and slow. If you’re editing videos or music then ‘fast’ is important.

If you like to have lots of programs running at the same time, then loads of memory is as important as chip speed (‘memory’ being the active part of the computer, which governs the amount of stuff you can do at the same time). If you are interested in playing games, then something with a good graphics card is better than something designed for accountants.

More advanced

You can pay anything above £300, and if you really want top spec you could go into the thousands, although we probably wouldn’t! A good tip is to go for something slightly more advanced than you think you’ll need.

It might seem a bit excessive initially - but if you get a small screen and decide to start watching TV programmes on the BBC iPlayer, or get a screen with low resolution and find a family member on the other side of the world starts sending photos and family videos, you’re likely to be frustrated.


The WebWise 'W'

WebWise Team

WebWise was first launched in 1998 and since then has helped people of all ages to learn about and love the internet.